Roughly two years ago (almost to the day now that I think about it), I was involved in a student movement on my university campus surrounding legal rights for the LGBTQ+ members of the community. Because the university was Catholic (like, extremely so), there were so many complications and microaggressions that often made many LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff feel slightly unwelcome. A few comments one night from the university president that alluded to the “don’t ask don’t tell” tone of the campus ignited the movement into a semester long call for legal protection and inclusion of the marginalized community.
At the beginning of the movement and shortly after the president made his remarks, I wrote an open letter to him on a now nonexistent blog. I wrote about how as a queer student, I often felt unsupported, alienated, and unwelcome by the administration and most of the school. I loved the school, from the soccer team, location, social justice, and so much more but it often felt like the school just hated me in return. This open letter was written in frustration and late at night. I opened myself up and was vulnerable, not thinking about what would happen in the future.
Over the course of the next few weeks, that letter was read and shared hundreds of times. Friends from the university shared and reshared the post on Facebook and an edited version ended up in the student newspaper later that week. So much of the feedback I received from friends and random faces was positive but through it, I had unintentionally become one of the leaders for the movement from this post.
To make an already long story a little shorter, the next couple months ended up being incredibly emotionally taxing. I wasn’t sleeping very well, barely eating, and generally not taking care of myself as I worked with other students attempting to get legal protections added for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. I was constantly vulnerable, opening myself up to friends and strangers in the hopes that my story of pain could help strength the community to be better.
And while legal protections for sexual orientation (but sadly not gender identity) were added to the university’s policy a few months after the movement, I was left to pick up the broken pieces of myself. By consistently putting myself in vulnerable position with no chance for self care, I completely broke myself down and was utterly burnt out. In the midst of all the positive feedback, I was also critiqued, bullied, and intimidated and with an ever shrinking support system and an increasing amount of limelight, I had no idea what to do.
The point of this post was to talk about how vulnerability can be incredibly amazing but learning from my own mistakes, I realize that vulnerability on a larger scale should go hand and hand with self care. Being open and vulnerable can help to create community and deep connections with others but it could very easily destroy someone. So it’s important to take care of yourself in whatever way you accomplish that.
I also write this as someone who is incredibly privileged in so many ways – being vulnerable never meant I feared for my physical safety. I’ve never worried that I’d be disowned from my family and close friends or that I would be in a dangerous position if I shared my story.
And while it’s been two years after this movement and I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of myself, it was through being vulnerable that I learned a lot about myself and activism. I learned about how there were others who went through similar experiences of microaggressions for not only their sexual orientation and gender identity but also for their race, ethnicity, disabilities, etc. It was through this that I learned so much about myself, about activism, about those around me.
Being vulnerable allowed me the space to grow and learn from the mistakes I made and hopefully become a better person for it. But it was also being vulnerable that let me know that activism and the fight for justice cannot be done alone – community is so incredibly important.